Soon, Monica robots to take over primary classrooms

Do not be surprised if tomorrow your children are taught by robots in their primary school classrooms as Spanish researchers are close to developing robotic tutors that can detect the emotional state of children while interacting with educational software which will ultimately improve their learning experience.

Luis Imbernon Cuadrado and co-workers at the Department of Artificial Intelligence at Technical University of Madrid in Spain developed an integrated computational architecture (ARTIE) that helped them build a robotic tutor platform, MONICA, which integrates the educational software Scratch to a commercially available robot.

“The main goal of our work was to design a system that can detect the emotional state of primary school children interacting with educational software and make pedagogic interventions with a robot tutor that can ultimately improve the learning experience,” said Cuadrado.

The researchers also identified three cognitive states — concentrating, distracted and inactive — known to influence the course of learning in children .

Keyboard strokes and mouse actions of children using educational software were used to predict which of these cognitive states the child is experiencing and subsequently linked to an algorithm that chooses the correct form of pedagogic intervention.

These could be words and gestures of encouragement or attempts to raise interest and motivation for a specific learning objective, all of which can be delivered by a robot tutor, the reseatrchers stated.

“Our first prototype was designed to demonstrate that the architecture works in detecting simplified emotional states,” said Cuadrado adding, “the next step will be to implement methods for detecting a more complex range of emotions with cameras and microphones and to test the longer term impact of robot tutors on children’s learning curves.”

MONICA was tested out on two primary school volunteers known to have different cognitive learning states.

Whilst the children enjoyed having a robot guide their learning, and preferred it to working alone, they both felt they would have learned more with their normal teacher, despite feeling more relaxed in the presence of a robot tutor.

It seems however that robot tutors are not ready to replace school teachers just yet, the researchers said.

“We consider that robot tutors could have an effective support role to play in the primary school classroom in helping children reach their specific learning objectives,” Cuadrado concluded in the paper published in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience.



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